The Power of the Pause
My five-year-old burst through the door one day, calling out, “Guess what, Mama! GUESS WHAT we found in the backyard!!!!”
“What?” I asked. But she refused to say. “What is it?” Again, she didn’t answer. She covered her mouth and ran back outside, beckoning me to follow. And, of course, I did.
At the age of 5, she had learned the power of silence.
In our noisy culture, we’re almost afraid of silence. I was listening to the radio the other day (I know, who does that anymore?) when there was a gap in the programming. After 3 seconds of nothing, I changed the station. It was too long to wait! Maybe you find breaks in conversation awkward or you can’t sleep without white noise. Maybe the TV is always on at your house. We’re used to constant noise.
We look to volume, both in sound and number of words, to get attention. Yet it is the space between the words and paragraphs that make them worth hearing. Have you ever noticed that a word on a page isn’t a word unless there’s space around it? Space defines and organizes content. It clarifies the message. It adds weight and value to what comes before and after. But how do you give “space” when speaking?
Pause. People will remember more the less you speak and the more you pause. You think you’ll be remembered for your words, but only if you give those words a chance to sink in. Pausing gives your audience (whether one person or an auditorium full) a chance to hear what you said, process it, and breathe. It gives space.
The problem is we don’t know how to pause. It does look and sound awkward if you stand there with your mouth gaping open, right? And it does invite people to jump in if you randomly stop speaking, right? So, when you’re pausing for emphasis, do these three things:
- Close your mouth. Don’t look like a codfish.
- Breathe. (Through your nose, obviously.) This communicates calmness and confidence. It’s only because you aren’t breathing that a silence becomes “awkward” or uncomfortable.
- Gesture. If you aren’t holding attention with your voice, you need to do it with your hands. Freeze your hand in place during the pause to signal that you aren’t finished. People will interrupt silence or even words, but they won’t “talk to the hand.”
You hold attention when you use silence effectively, just like my daughter did. She piqued my curiosity and dragged me all the way out into the backyard for the sake of a ladybug. Stop rushing from sentence to sentence, tripping over words and trampling over your listener. Give them time to think. Give them time to process. At the very least, give them time to laugh at your jokes! Give them space.
If what you said is worth listening to, pause.